Charting frontiers of online religious communities: The case of Chabad Jews

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

Abstract

Since its inception, the question of community on the Internet has puzzled scholars. Researchers have inquired whether the Internet can produce a viable and meaningful community (Rheingold 2000; Green 1999; Beninger 1987), and whether it can indeed facilitate the growth and social integration of its members. Within the religious world, a tension around Internet use has been growing in the past few years. Religious leaders appreciate the pervasiveness and strong potential of the Internet for fostering outreach, proselytizing the faith, strengthening connections among congregation members, and promoting fundamental worldviews. However, the loose commitment of web surfers and their tendency to “shop around,” that is, to enter and exit websites of completely different orientations, poses a threat to religious communities’ ability to uphold their social frontiers – a tension that has led many religious leaders to object to Internet practices. In this study, the following question is explored: how do religious commu-

nities use the Internet to invite new members and expand their influence while catering to their own communities and consolidating existing membership? To examine this question in detail, we focus on the case of the Chabad, a Jewish ultra-Orthodox group that has been a pioneer on the Web, having an online presence as early as the 1980s. Chabad’s case is unique, as it is an ultra-Orthodox group that maintains the

tension of keeping up an enclave lifestyle while promoting outreach. A religious enclave is a cultural system that ensures insiders will conform to the collective’s worldview and lifestyle. Chabad members live within an enclave society, yet at the same time their philosophy advocates outreach to Jews of all denominational affiliations, and to some extent even beyond the Jewish world, for the purpose of what they perceive as “bettering the world” and advancing the imminent arrival of the messiah. This has been most apparent in their continuous efforts to send emissaries around the world, create centers of worship and teaching, publish books and generally promote Chabad’s philosophy and practices.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDigital Religion
Subtitle of host publicationUnderstanding Religious Practice in New Media Worlds
EditorsH. Campbell
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Pages155-163
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)9780203084861
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (all)

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